Life

Nuala McCann: Michael Collins's knife and other treasures you might find in your aunty's attic

Liam Lynam handed over the knife and said a widow had given it to his dad who took the Michael Collins story with a pinch of salt as he was a De Valera man himself. There were photographs too – one signed by Countess Markievicz and a rare photograph of Sean Connolly

The National Treasures project wants to collect objects and stories that reveal the rich history of Ireland over the last century

MY AUNT lived in a stern three-storey house above the pub that her husband ran, just opposite the railway station in a long ago time.

It’s a fancy restaurant now where they serve up squid ink meringues the size of a fingernail.

It’s a far cry from the days when the railway men rested their flat caps on the counter and nursed a pint.

Back then, it was a working man’s bar and we children were barred. But my uncle would open the glass door that separated bar from living quarters and hand us out a bottle of mineral in the evening. We might get a free gift that the traveller brought too.

There was a doe-eyed Bambi with velvet antlers... little wonder my first drink was a Babycham.

My aunt’s was an old family home. The beds were the big iron variety – as children, we had to take a running jump to hit the top of the mattress.

In her living room, there was a picture of a thatched cottage cut out of tweed and, above it, a shamrock. A photograph of John F Kennedy was inside the shamrock. I believe Pope Paul resided in the other corner of the frame.

Upstairs, there was a stark portrait of a dour nun in a wimple – her eyes stalked you about the room and straight into your nightmares.

My aunt was knocked down by a car and badly injured a long time ago – as she was recovering, someone gave her a present of a prayer on a piece of wood: I used to trace out the words with one finger every time we visited.

They were practical and to the point: “Get on your knees and thank God, you’re on your feet,” they advised.

Are we a nation of hoarders?

The National Treasures project – in association with RTÉ, the National Museum of Ireland and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland – reaches out to the essence of what it means to be Irish.

They want to collect objects and stories that reveal the rich history of Ireland over the last century. People have scoured their attics to offer up the treasures that make us who we are.

There are photographs of paper bags of Odlums flour that summon up memories of baking at the blue formica table after Sunday Mass.

There is a knife reputed to belong to one Michael Collins. Apparently he left it behind him one night as “he went out the back and the boys were coming through the front door”.

Liam Lynam handed it over and said a widow had given it to his dad who took the story of the knife “with a pinch of salt” as he was a “De Valera man” himself. There were photographs too – one signed by Countess Markievicz and a rare photograph of Sean Connolly.

“We intend leaving the photos with the National Museum but I am holding on to Michael’s knife a while longer,” said Liam.

What history we have at our fingertips and what history do others dismiss as “old tat”.

Memories flutter from the photographs. Here are Sarah McDevitt’s Garth Brooke tickets.

“I bought nine of them and, alas, it never happened,” she writes.

Here is a stamp from Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1979 that summons memories of a hellish bus ride to Galway and a rollicking version of Totus Tuus with Dana – we’d been practising for ages.

There is an old school catechism that resurrects memories of quick-fire questions: “Who made you?”

“God made me.”

“Why did he make you?”

“To know, love and serve him here on Earth so that I can be happy with Him forever in heaven.”

There is a 1918 election voting paper – the first time that women over the age of 30 and all men aged over 21 could vote. It is a stark reminder that one person/one vote was a hard won right.

There are stacks of old books with prim names like Courtesy For Boys And Girls.

And there is an old Singer sewing machine – just like the one my mother used when she sewed our cotton dresses in the long ago. I spent many happy hours on the floor scavenging for scraps to stitch dresses for my doll.

A picture of Roger Casement, an old lace Christening gown...

Start hunting in your attic for all that sings of our souls. There is much to treasure.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe before January 31st to receive a FREE month of The Irish News Digital

Today's horoscope

Horoscope


See a different horoscope: